“Drop the Damn Fork!”–Jean Nidetch (Weight Watchers Founder)

Can we fast forward here, to the part where I acknowledge that I gained ten pounds in the summer of 2010 as we closed shop on our lives in Minnesota and stuffed every last ceramic vase and fleece vest into the basement?

Continue now with the flowing frames of the Weight Gain Narrative, as we watch my sturdy frame pack on another twenty pounds during the year in Turkey, a time when socializing was often attended by letdown, when I lived in a region where families consume an average of four loaves of bread a night at dinner, when my family took trips to France and Italy and all their butters, when a beautiful communion took place every evening between my husband and myself in the tiles-laid-over-ornately-carved-stone kitchen, and that communion sounded like the thick whisper of beer cans opening and staccato echo of wine corks popping.

Ah, and here we are, having flitted through that nostalgic sepia-toned rewind, in the Now.  Doing the math in an accurate fashion that is completely un-English-major-like, we can add up that I gained 30 pounds in the last year, and while some of you might have a soft internal self that feels compelled to emit a sympathetic (empathetic?) “Oooh, that’s rough,” or while you might have a harder-edged self that draws upon the power of an eternally slim waist, who thinks “Oooh, there’s this little thing I believe in called Eat Less and Move More, so stop nattering on in the hopes of eliciting my sympathetic (hardly empathetic) reaction,”

the truth is that it doesn’t matter either way, as this isn’t your story, nor can you hit the edit button and revise the text (unless you’re clever enough to hack my low-security password and bust into this post, owning it by typing, with a vaguely sociopathic vehemence, “NEENER-NEENER-NEENER”); it’s mine, and my earliest memories are tinged with feeling ugly and fat and possessed with a desire to be desired.

I get it from my mom, a woman who can’t, even at age 76, view a photo of herself without clutching into a physical flinch and emitting a vehement, “Yuck.”

You might connect the dots, then, that drawing a boundary around my story means drawing a thick, black, angry line around my weight gain, too. It’s mine alone.

Yea, Mom, you’re off the hook.  Your damage is your own.  I’m the one who drank the 500 beers and spread the butter on the baguette, not you.  Sure, you might have filled my childhood fridge with Mountain Dew, the freezer with chocolate chip ice cream and frozen Thin Mints, and eaten six out of twelve donuts out of the box on the drive home from the bakery, later ascribing those binges to your unhappy marriage,

but since I don’t buy that the unhappiness in your marriage was thrust upon you or that my father was the sole architect of your misery,

I don’t think I can blame you for my weight gain.

We make our own choices, and it seems disingenuous to trace the psychology back to a place so distant that it diminishes personal responsibility.

Since returning home from the glorious, textured year in Turkey that saw me both running my hands along tufa stone walls and sucking down tall cans of beer named after an ancient Greek city, I have made a new choice, one that feels familiar.

I have headed back to Weight Watchers, that welcoming repository of my gut after each childbirth and eager recipient of my angst before class reunions.

And the Weight Watchers?  It kind of cracks me up (picture, if you can bear it, my added girth shaking like a bowl full of jelly!).  Certainly, WW has rightly earned credibility as one of the more realistic and successful weight loss gigs to tap into the searing pain felt by self-conscious Americans who feel their knees weaken at the sight of platters of pork loin and banana bread. However, the organization is not exactly honest about its interest in “seeing less of me,” as Mrs. Watchers doesn’t genuinely care about alleviating low-but-steady hum of self loathing that plagues every moment of every Pork Loin Banana Bread Lover’s every day, nor does she really care to start up a conversation that opens with, “So. Each time you take a bite of food, it’s simultaneously a fleeting affirmation of ‘I can too eat whatever I want because I am alive and joyous!’ and an act of disappointment wherein you set yourself up to feel awash with regret a month later when you wish for a bottle of lube as you try to tug in to your swimsuit.  Let’s take a minute to decipher that complexity, shall we?”

Rather, Mrs. Watchers, in the name of cutting-edge nutritional science, mixes up her program every year or two, a revamping that–clever gel!–asks members not only to pay the standard joining fee and the weekly fee and the optional e-tools fee (why is the WW catch phrase not “Pay More to Eat Less“?); it also requires members to buy a special calculator that mathmetizes the confluence of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and fiber in every food, thus allowing them to track their daily Points Plus intake.  What’s more, Mrs. Watchers cannily sets the required calculator on top of “starter packs” of books that contain the Points Plus value for many common foods, food tracking journals, dining out guides, measuring cups, and food scales.  To get to this treasure trove of potential purchases, however, the Feeling Hefties But Wanting to Be Slims must first work their way past several tables laden with boxes of low Points Plus processed foods:  breakfast shakes; granola bars; night time treats.  By the time the Hopeful Hefty has finished waiting in line for her weekly weigh-in, she’s spent upwards of ten minutes standing next to food and guide books,

and because those in the weigh-in line are as nervous as Marcus Bachmann in an interview with Dan Savage and as hungry as Kim Kardashian the week before her wedding (there’s no more restricted day of eating than weigh-in day!), Mrs. Watchers’ products virtually jump into the Hopeful Hefty’s arms.  Thus, by the time she reaches the weigh-in table, HH at WW has her cheque book out, ready to purchase the promise of greater weight loss.

…speaking of a tangled bit of psychology, Mrs. Watchers, you expert marketer, you.

Of course, even when we’re hungry and hopeful and nervous all at once, we’re still in charge of our own choices, which is why I don’t purchase any of the pre-packaged goodies littering my path to the scale.  Already fully aware of the irony inherent in paying money to eat less, I draw the line at the cost of membership, an outlay of money that redeems itself with the people watching it affords. Taking stock of the group leader’s carefully-crafted outfits each week is worth at least a dollar of my weekly fee.  To find an outfit that packages White Middle American Mom Whose Fatal Weakness is Jelly Beans at Easter as Capable, Knowledgeable, Thin, and Approachable is a tricky wardrobe challenge, but Group Leader brings it home each week with her above-the-knee belted denim skirt, tucked-in white t-shirt, and casual strappy sandal. I do look forward to her winter look which–thinner-fingers crossed–will feature a holiday sweater bedecked with at least one carrot-nosed snowman holding a broom.  [sidenote: carrots, and by extension carrot noses, are zero points under the new Points Plus program!]

Then there’s the chatty children’s librarian who brings me at least another dollar’s worth of enjoyment each week.  A vocal member of the group, she weighs in enthusiastically and repeatedly after the initial weigh-in, avowing that if Mrs. Watchers got her to eat salad, anything is possible (*insert knowing group chortle here*).  Recently, she proposed that the group start donating a dime for every pound lost and that the resultant money go to a food shelf so that our eating less means hungry people can eat more.  Rather than veer off into a crotchety tangent here about do-gooderism that requires an audience as motivation, I will simply report Children’s Librarian has also proposed that, once the group has raised its monetary goal for the food shelf, Group Leader will be forced to do a hula dance for the entire group during a meeting.  Because that’s just fun! And hilarious! And it makes everyone want to shed those pounds and cough up those dimes! I mean, really:  A hula! Done by Group Leader! During a meeting! We’ll burn off 2 Points Plus through laughter alone!  The whole thing makes me want to go looking for hungry people in downtown Duluth and tell them that a formerly-overweight mom of three is going to tie a grass skirt on top of her above-the-knee denim and wave her arms in the air in an act of jokey public humiliation on their behalf, and if this formerly-overweight mom of three had said, “No, I’m not game for this idea, as it embodies everything I hate about ‘Go, Team!’ thinking,” then they wouldn’t be eating corn chowder at the soup kitchen that night. I’ll round out my confab with The Hungries by suggesting that maybe they should begin their meal with a prayer of thanks to “all the world’s children’s librarians and awkwardly-costumed mothers of three who thrive off manufactured public embarrassment in the name of feeling like they are good people.”  Sure, that’s a mouthful of a prayer salutation, yet it’s the least The Hungries can do to indicate their gratitude at having their mouths full.

All this, and I’ve only recounted two dollars of people-watching fun out of my ten-dollar weekly fee.  Trust me, the married couple who are working together in bickering fashion to lose weight give me a good 50 cents worth of enjoyment, and I get a solid 72 cents of eyebrow raising from the young professional who keeps her smart phone out and active the entire meeting, just so she can look up the answer to every question (“Group Leader? Group Leader? I looked it up: the Skinny Cow Mint Truffle Bars have 3 Points Plus each”) and thereby prove that in every congregation of humanity, there’s an overachieving front-of-the-classroom type who feels validated by waving her hand wildly in the air.

The other $6.78 of my weekly fee is redeemed by cutting sideways glances at New Guy In Jeans who sits with his arms crossed, looking stunned; by Former Neighbor Who Used to Have a Boyfriend Named George and Whose Flower Boxes Are Painted Exactly The WRONG Shade of Pink for Her Brown House; by NASCAR Fan Lady Who Should Stop Wearing Those Shirts; by Gorgeous Grandma with a Gluten Allergy; by Tired Mom with Rammy Toddler; by The Coupon Maven; by Bewildered Menopausal Who Claws Through Her Purse Looking for Stuff

and, of course, by the moment when Group Leader dons a multi-pocketed apron so that she can plunge her hand in and pull out the various weekly awards–stickers! keychains!–coming to those who have lost 5 pounds, 5% of their body weight, 10% of their body weight, or reached the elusive “goal weight.”  I get at least 33 cents of pleasure from watching her struggle with the apron’s ties, often ultimately deciding it’s easier just to hold the apron rather than wear it.  Shucks if the best laid plans of a good gimmick don’t too often go awry.  The entire apron-sticker-aganza portion of the meeting makes me wish I’d tried harder the first time through in kindergarten so that I didn’t have to repeat it at this advanced age.

So there are stickers and applause, and then Group Leader stumbles verbally through the text she’s reading off the charts at the front of the room, finally managing to get out “Successful people do what unsuccessful people don’t dare” on the third try, and then we all mill our way out of the church basement where we’ve just worshiped at the scale as our personal Jesus and bought Toasted Coconut Dream Mini-Bars for our last suppers,

and we pray next week’s weigh-in will deliver Good News.

Each week, as all the NASCAR fans and bickering couples and bewildered menopausals strap on their seatbelts and drive away, I tuck my hair back in to my running hat, stuffing my weigh-in papers into its crown, and consider the bizarre process of group-supported weight loss.  Mrs. Watchers is happy to take my money, and I’m happy to give Mrs. Watchers my money because some part of my psychology is willing to commit to self-improvement if it has a cost.  I also respond to the aspect of public accountability; it’s one thing to weigh myself and groan, but it’s quite another to have someone else do the weighing and tell me “good job” on those weeks when I have eaten celery instead of biscotti.

The whole weight issue is a fragile one; it’s not something I can seem to put to rest for once and all, what with my dominant personality trait being a tendency towards excess.  Even more, weight is fraught with insecurity and power and approval and disappointment and vulnerability and confidence.  The point I’ve ultimately come to–aside from my willingness to pay Mrs. Watchers and be bemused by my cohort–is that there are multiple ways to be “fit” in life,

and because I run more than an hour every day

and because I laugh out loud when I read books

and because I want nothing more than to rub the back of my husband’s neck and ask him what he has seen in the world

and because I stood in the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice and stared at the work of Braque, Kandinsky, Klee, Pollock, Calder and gasped, “I love the part of life when I don’t have words”

and because my children hold my hand as we walk from the bus stop to the house

and because I bake cookies that make Mr. Tollhouse cry “uncle”

and because I don’t mind naming the elephant in the room when I see him lounging there in his smoking jacket

and because I do a quiet cheer when I take the compost out and see that the strawberries and asparagus are holding their own against the bindweed

and because my students write to me and say, “I love this class so much! Would you mind answering a few of my follow-up questions about this week’s story; I’ve reread it four times now, just for pleasure, and I don’t know how I should interpret the closing lines.  What do you think?  Do you think Panna is going to go back to India and stay with her husband?  Or do you think her taste of the U.S. has changed her so much she can never go back?”

and because I occasionally “bingo” when playing Scrabble

and because I have a stable of neighbors I can rely on for a cup of sugar, amusement for my children, advice on moisturizers, new music, stimulating conversation, and cocktail hour

and because the whites of my fingernails are constantly stained with dirt thanks to my penchant for prettying up the earth with flowers

and because I like to lie on my back on the pebble beaches next to Lake Superior and feel the warmth from the rocks soak into my shoulder blades

I guess, at the end of the weigh-in, the number written on my weight tracker

doesn’t actually reflect much at all.






21 responses to ““Drop the Damn Fork!”–Jean Nidetch (Weight Watchers Founder)”

  1. kmkat Avatar

    Oh, I love you! (You can add “…and because I entertain and amuse and enlighten any number of internet readers.” to your list.) I have had vague thoughts of returning to WW, but your description of their latest system makes me say, Meh, and give it up.

  2. Jenn @ Juggling Life Avatar

    So true. I would say you gained that weight the best possible way–living a very full life.

    I actually really like my WW meeting–I go with a group of friends and the leader is is not above slyly mocking the whole thing herself.

  3. Jess Avatar

    You can’t have her kmkat, I loved her first!! Possibly. Definitely more though.

    Anyhow your people-watching vignettes reminded me for some reason that I was in Walmart the other day and I looked down and realized that my tank top had slipped and my bra was showing. In Walmart. And I thought, “Way to blend, Jess.” And then I thought, “That was funny. I should put it on FB as to not deprive the rest of the world of my moments of brilliant humor.” But then I remembered how horribly mean I think those web sites making fun of Walmart shoppers are even though they’re hilarious and totally justified. Because people have problems. And the bigger their problems are the better they show and the easier it is to make fun of them. So I didn’t. But I couldn’t stand the idea of not sharing that little gem with anyone, so… you’re welcome. My point was that I love your ability to gently poke fun at people and point out the general ridiculousness of life without mocking or stripping them of their humanity. Cuz lets face it, we humans are a frequently ridiculous, yet strangely enchanting race.

    1. Jocelyn Avatar

      Jess: I just fell even more in love with you, thanks to this comment. Bra in Wal-mart? That’s what I’m talkin’ about. And thank you for being able to see what I hope I’m doing but am never sure is being achieved…until I get a comment such as yours.

  4. Meg Avatar

    “Hungry Hefties”?! That’s good; damn good. I have been one of those many times over. I finally threw away all of my weight watchers crap accumulated over and over again from 1993 until last year. I had an archive of the program changes and the meandering path my weight has taken. I can also picture all of the various leaders – especially the gay man who I stuck with the longest! (“You are lookin’ fab-U-lous, girls!”) Ultimately, WW symbolizes everything I hated and yet loved about sorority rush, and I why I never pledged. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to fit in with that group. I guess I’m just not perky enough. And you are right: the number on the scale – it’s really just a number. Perfectly arbitrary.

  5. Deborah Avatar

    Oh sigh. I have started and deleted about three times, and maybe I’m too brain-tired to have any business commenting on anything. I couldn’t do the WW thing, or any other group/team/public therapy – at least I don’t think I could. And while I’m reading this, I’m shaking my head, wondering how on earth YOU do it, especially since you’ve got your mental hatpin out (as my ma used to say) and that sort of thing is usually the kiss of death to any sense of participation or belief in a positive outcome.
    Jess is right – you do a good job of walking the fine line between humour and unkindness, and of course your willingness to expose yourself to the Light of Truth is the biggest reason you can get away with making fun of Group Leader et al.
    My waste-no-sympathy Norwegian grandfather set the example for the whole lot of us. If it isn’t good for you, don’t do it. Just quit. Or don’t start in the first place. I’d like to think that kind of self-discipline is available to a majority of the human race, but then I read a story like yours and think I don’t know anything about anything. God knows, I have enough trouble with impulse control, even if it doesn’t involve beer.
    Yup, it’s just a number. It doesn’t define you or have anything to do with your worthiness. There’s no getting around the fact that the self-esteem of women, in particular, is all knotted up with how they look and it’s not going to change in our lifetimes or our daughters’, but just keep it well away from the top of that very fine list of yours, Jocelyn. And keep on teaching the rest of us.

  6. geewits Avatar

    I’ve never understood WW, so thanks for this insight. I’d rather pay for a dance class myself. Here I was feeling horrid that I’d gained 6 pounds this summer and hearing you say 30 made me feel so much better. But I’ve seen pictures of you and you look much smaller than me and I can only conclude that you got your American pounds and European stones mixed up with each other. You probably lost 5 pounds. You were moving around quite a bit over there. Anyway, have fun with it!

  7. Jeni Hill Ertmer Avatar

    Yeah, I really need to “drop the damned fork” and do it PDQ too as I have to have some blood work done this week, in advance of my six month check-up next week with my primary care physician. And I’m already pretty much knowing she’s gonna have a hissy fit over this thing called cholesterol and she’s gonna be telling me I have to go really easy on the things in life I totally enjoy -Hellman’s mayo for one thing and macaroni and cheese -the substance that takes the center of our dining table usually several meals every week because it is the substance my grandchildren will ALWAYS eat and I have learned, late in life, to pick my battles carefully with those two little hooligans! Cutting back on sugar and carbs was the edict to me almost 2 years ago and to exercise -which is a big, big very dirty word in my world! I did push myself away from the table a little bit -but never really dropped the fork, ya know. I did start walking and still do that but not as much as when I first started walking the dumb mutt simply because the arthritis has taken a bigger hold of my limbs! But, having looked over the lists of acceptable foods to consume while trying to lower cholesterol, it seems the only things left for me to eat are lettuce, raw broccoli and maybe a few carrot sticks or celery. And there’s a drawback to that too because the roughage wreaks havoc then on my intestines! So what the hell is that gonna leave me then that I can eat? Not very doggone much, that much is for sure! And ya know, I figure I really don’t have all that many days left on the planet and I think I’d really like to enjoy them as much as possible so don’t anyone touch my Hellman’s Mayo jar unless you want to risk broken fingers!

  8. Jazz Avatar

    You make me want to go to WW just to see those people. And then go home with you and split a bottle of wine.

    1. Jocelyn Avatar

      Me heart you, Jazz.

  9. Monica Avatar

    as long as you still can run an hour a day, I wouldn’t worry too much if I were you… And I’m convinced that for example your beloved couldn’t care less as long as you keep on rubbing that back neck…..

  10. Green Girl in Wisconsin Avatar
    Green Girl in Wisconsin

    I love how you ended this–when you add up the numbers in your life, it’s perfectly overflowing. Brava!

  11. Robin Preble Avatar
    Robin Preble

    Love it. Well done.

  12. sweffing Avatar

    What a bravura performance of a post! Loved, loved, loved it. Especially since I read it after I had just come home from a Slimming World evening:)) Thank you so much, it made my day. XX

  13. pam Avatar

    Loved the post Jocelyn. So much to say to you.
    I am in a non weight- related night class each week. This is the fourth week that Ms Coughalot has not done anything about a cough that racks through the tutorials in our small group (croup??) of five so that we miss every tenth word. You know the type that sits with arms folded and prepares for the loudness of it. In contrast Mrs. Aquiesence near me is all sympathy, Three weeks I can stand, four is pushing it, tonight I think I’ll brain her with the glass of water lavished on her by the instructor and pelt her with Fisherman’s Friends lozenges. Has she not heard of these things???
    There is a strict unstated seating code (the territorial/security factor) where the participants like to sit in exactly the same place each week. I delight in breaking this up. What is this with normally affable me?
    I feel better getting this off my chest, as I know you do. Those meetings can bring out the worst in a person.
    Re” …it embodies everything I hate about “Go Team, thinking”. My husband informs me that the term “taking one for the team” which I used enthusiastically recently ,has an entirely different meaning to what I thought. It does NOT mean achieving a goal by a participant on the sporting field contributing to the success of the players, and is definitely not to be used around little sports players when they finally get their hands on the ball. Who knew?.
    Your comment on my post? I thought of you as I wrote that post. I knew that had this gigantic roasted slab of your favourite food fallen from the skies in Turkey and landed slap-bang in the middle of your table in Turkey, hell, who knows in which manner of grateful gastronomic frenzy you’d attack that thing!

  14. Friko Avatar

    one way and another I wonder: why bother?
    dieting is such a soul destroying way of life. eating normally, happily, and not overly greedily feels like being so much less effort to me. I wish could follow my own rules.

    During my recent stay in hospital I overheard two visiting ladies talk. Both were thoroughly overweight.

    “I have yet to find a food I don’t like”, the one said. “Me too”, said the other.
    They were very happy to have found each other and were almost congratulating themselves and each other on their relaxed attitude to being fat.

    “Life’s too short to worry about what you eat”; they said.

    I don’t know how I did it – iron self control, that’s me – but I said never a word. But I was thinking that their life might indeed be too short, and become a bit of burden on top of it, if they continued their happy gluttony.

    Ah well, now where did I put that chocolate bar.

  15. sqt Avatar

    I did WW for about a year and a half after gaining a bunch of weight after a stressful year full thanks to my parents and their financial meltdown. Anyhoo. I lost 35 lbs and then couldn’t break the plateau to save my life. I was at an acceptable weight, but starving. Then WW changed their system and I could no longer tally points in my head. I had to buy more books and a stupid calculator and it just became aggravating. I got all the awards and stickers, hit my lifetime goal and all that– and still had to pay $40 if I wanted to go online. Oh, I could attend meetings and have the women shake their head sadly if I didn’t lose any weight (despite being at my goal weight). I got sick and darn tired of having to face their faux sympathy every week and lost interest in the whole thing.

    I have since cut all grain based food out of my diet in an effort to alleviate chronic pain from arthritis and dropped 10 pounds in a month– way faster than I ever lost on WW. I don’t count calories, eat butter and fatty meat and feel tons better. I’m at the lowest weight I’ve been in 15 years and have significantly less joint pain. And I’m not starving.

  16. Pearl Avatar

    Ahh, Joce, you’re killing me over here. 🙂


    p.s. And do please share my warnings re: New Guy Fresh Outta College. The world needs to know…

  17. heart in san francisco Avatar

    You are so right that there is much more to you than how much poundage there is to you. When I lived in Minnesota, I noticed that Lunn’s Market, to this date the best supermarket I have ever seen, had far more cookie/cake/pastry aisles than food stores in other places, which I attributed to the bitter winters. So be careful not to lose too much weight at WW – you will need some of it to keep you warm in a few months. (And you’ll always be beautiful, regardless.)

  18. secret agent woman Avatar

    I sit wrong that this post makes me want to go to WW just for the bloggability of it all? Yes? Okay, then I’ll say this instead:

    I’m not sure believing in “Eat Less, Move More” and sympathy/empathy are mutually exclusive. It’s something I’ve said to patients who come to me for help with weight loss, but it’s coupled with a look at all the issues that get bound up in weight and body image and happiness and so on. And I encourage people to consider WW because in spite of the silliness and in spite of the fact that of course they are in it for the money, it’s still one of the sanest systems going. Also, I don’t think putting on weight in trying times in any way negates a richly lived life. Life is about so much more than what size you’re wearing. I do worry about health, having had some serious health issues, and I know the link between excess weight and the breast cancer my mother had twice. But it’s not even on the list when I review all the amazing things about my life so far, let alone near the top of it. And life without some indulgences – what is that worth? I say this with a glass of wine at my side.

    Still, I would so like to be at that meeting, taking notes for a future post.

  19. lime Avatar

    i vastly prefer your definition of fit to weekly weigh-ins. well except for the running for an hour part 😛 let me walk and i’m ok with that.

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